As someone who has devoted a major portion of her professional life to the current movement called writing across the curriculum (WAC), I find that reading David Russell's Writing in the Academic Disciplines is like studying an intellectual family tree. By tracing the genealogy of writing in the disciplines, Russell creates a context in which to understand contemporary educational conflicts. Is writing a set of discrete mechanical skills or a function of maturing thought? Should students be able to generalize instruction in writing to a variety of situations, or do students need help in discerning the requirements imposed by different contexts? Should writing be regarded as transparent (an intrinsic skill), or should writing be highlighted as a powerful means of learning? Is writing something that the chosen few learn to do without being taught, or should writing instruction provide mobility within a democratic society? Russell makes clear that we did not invent these issues in the last quarter of the twentieth century. They have a history.
Reading this history in Russell's intelligent, honest, and lucid account is remarkably instructive. Seen through the prism of writing in the disciplines, Russell's retelling of U. S. educational history illuminates the general story, clarifying recurring themes: excellence and access; general education and specialized study; teaching and research. Like the writing-across-the-curriculum movement itself, this book is fundamentally an exploration of